12 ways this CMO is securing the future of a fast-growth B2B brand

The global chief marketing officer of rapidly growing cybersecurity player shares how she's built the B2B brand's marketing strategy

In the highly competitive cybersecurity space, being able to articulate why you’re different from the pack and valuable to the customer is absolutely vital, CrowdStrike CMO, Johanna Flower, believes. And it’s this impetus for growth in other organisations that she also sees transforming marketing’s role today.

Flower has spent the last 20 years growing up as a marketer and executive in the cybersecurity space, including 14 years with dominant player, WebSense. During this time, she was part of the core group running Websense’s M&A activity, including its sale to Vista Equity Partners in 2013 for US$1 billion.

For the past four years, she’s been CMO of CrowdStrike, harnessing and propelling the seven-year-old company’s growth. This work saw CrowdStrike rise to the ranks of ‘unicorn club’ in 2017, just one of a handful of startups to gain a valuation of more than US$1 billion.

“A very important aspect of the modern marketing role is bringing that differentiation and value proposition and positioning of the company to market,” Flower tells CMO. “In addition to that, the expectation of taking marketshare and growing very fast means it’s vital to really understand how to go into the right markets at the right time to capitalise on the opportunity to drive business growth. I see those two things merging together into the CMO role.”

Here, Flower outlines key ways she’s helped accelerate CrowdStrike’s rapid growth geographically and commercially, work that’s led to the company achieving a market valuation of $3 billion and becoming a highly respected leader in the security space.

1. Articulating your differentiator

The first step for Flower was to understand and start articulating what it is separating CrowdStrike from the pack.

“What’s really important in the world of cyber is credibility and trust and that the people who are building and taking the technology to market really understand the segment,” Flowers explains.  

That’s because it’s extremely complex. In addition, what makes Crowdstrike unique is it its position in a very well established part of the market, she says. While the cybersecurity market is highly competitive, many technologies available weren’t keeping up with how adversaries were attacking enterprise IT systems in the digital era.

“The adversaries almost had an upper hand because the technology was not geared to the modern world,” Flower says. In response, CrowdStrike’s co-founders, trusted and highly experienced security experts in their own right, built a cloud native platform to better cope with modern cyber threats. In contrast, many competitors had taken the less risky option of building hybrid solutions augmenting the traditional on-premise security approach, Flower claims.

“Yet you need to have the speed and the accuracy to be able to really defend against the adversaries. If that meant the smaller portion of the market and early adopters were willing to adopt our technology first, then that’s what we’d do,” she says. “We knew the rest would come over time and we just prioritised on the companies ready for this type of technology.”

2. Name the adversary

Another big branding decision, and something CrowdStrike differentiates on, is personifying the security adversary. Today, the vendor has more than 100 adversaries it has named, tracks and reports on.

“When anyone talks about naming one of the adversaries doing something, they refer to our brand as well,” Flower says. “We understand the adversaries’ traits and behaviours. As a result, the industry is coming to us for expertise and understanding of those adversaries and it’s really brought to life the expertise we have and information we’re willing to share with customers, industry and media in terms of what’s going on in the world of cyber.”

3. Build technical marketing capability

Demonstrating what the CrowdStrike product can do in practice has been another emphasis. Last year, the vendor launched a trial offering, giving people access for 15 days to its technology.

“We have a highly technical buyer who wants to be able to see what the product will do in their environment. Building that strong ‘technical’ arm of marketing was therefore critical,” Flower says.

“When I look at my team today, about 20 per cent are more technical marketers, focusing on things like competitive intelligence and product marketing. Most don’t come from a marketing background either – they were technical support, or systems engineers in the field and close to customers. But they had an interest in coming more closely into the commercial side.”

The trial aims to showcase the SaaS platform by having prospects and customers undertake an in-app experience of testing modules. To do this, a taskforce was created, bringing staff from various departments together on a six-month project.

“There’s an engineering component for sure, but there’s also an operational component – people come in, where do they even register for a trial? How do we make sure the trial is intuitive enough for them to get the value they need? What’s the sales process off the back of it? Before you know it you need engineering, marketing, sales, operations all involved,” Flower says.  

“Not only did we meet the deadline we set ourselves because everyone rallied around it, the feedback from people involved was they learned a lot. It was a great way of coming together and creating an initiative cross-departmentally.”

What also helped was the heads of sales, engineering and marketing all allocating resources and coming together physically to look at how we bring this successfully to market, Flower says.

In the first year, CrowdStrike has seen the number of people trialling per month lift to those trialling its products in one day, as well as increased sales conversion.

“The next step is to build a business unit around it looking at acquisition marketing to drive more, but also the whole marketing funnel,” Flower says. At time of interview, CrowdStrike had also just launched a shopping cart, allowing US customers to buys its product online.

4. Know when to be tactical and when to lead

Marketing activities have also evolved over time. Flower cites two reasons: The CrowdStrike brand being more recognised; and the funding available. In particular, $100m in Series C funding was a big milestone, which brought lead investor, CapitalG (Google's investment arm), into the fold, as well as put the company on the mainstream radar.

“In the beginning, marketing was much more tactical – it was going to the right conferences, using those as a vehicle to get in front of as many people as possible, making sure we build up our database. We didn’t have a lot of prospecting data, so we had to find ways to build the database so we could start communicating to the audience and driving education,” Flower says.

“As we got more funding and became more known, we looked to the next phase of evolution of marketing. This was adding more thought leadership to the mix, leveraging our experts to be spokespeople and have a view at an industry level.

“We have never been afraid to go out there and make a point or provide a recommendation, and that helps. You need to spread the word and use your experts to do that. We built a significant communications strategy, incorporating everything from traditional PR through to social, a webcast program, and more orienting to the world of digital.”

Winning over industry commentators has been another vital step for CrowdStrike. In the technology ecosystem, analysts have a highly influential role on how IT and security managers make technology purchase decisions. Companies such as Gartner, Forrester and IDC, for example, report on the endpoint security space as one of many facets of the IT lumascape, making it imperative for vendors to be in their lists.

“When you speak to security professionals, they go and look and from those lists of players in the space, they select 5-6 to try out. If you’re not in those reports, it’s much harder to get considered in some of those assessment phases,” Flower says. “In the early days, it was important to make sure relevant analysts were well educated.”

5. Build the tech stack

In its quest to be more strategic in its marketing efforts, CrowdStrike’s marketing has built a martech stack.

“We have the ability to use various vehicles to go out and find the right buyer at the right time, with the right message, and going outside our own data through digital opportunities,” Flower continues.  

While CrowdStrike possessed some of the building blocks when Flower joined, such as Marketo and Salesforce platforms, they weren’t talking to each other, so integration was a big priority. She’s also invested in marketing operations as a core capability.

“If you get that right, it becomes your engine house and you can build around that,” Flower says. “In addition, I said we needed to do it faster and get it right, which meant consulting services to help us get through it.

“Martech is an evolution too – you get basics right, show it’s helping the business grow, start to get conversion rate analysis and ROI investment, then from there, add to the tech stack to make it extremely strategic.”  

6. Act like a consumer marketer

Another thing Flower keeps telling her team is to act more as a consumer marketing group than it ever used to.

“Gone are the days you can pick up the phone and tell someone about your product. The buyer is really in control of when they want to research, get access to information and even have a conversation,” she says.  

7. Align tightly with sales

This is also arguably the reason why marketing and sales must go hand-in-glove. Flower says her experience working in a field organisation, as well as Websense sales VP for an SMB business unit, helped her forge strong ties with CrowdStrike’s sales team.

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“The skillset within sales and marketing are different and complementary but I believe it’s one department,” she comments. “Being very aligned with your sales organisation, where you plan together, agree on go-to-market together, build a tech stack together, and your marketing campaigns so they’re integrated with a sales process and enabled, is absolutely critical. It’s even more critical when you’re still growing your brand, as people are still figuring you out and learning about you. If you can have a truly aligned sales and marketing plan, strategy and implementation, it’ll go a long way.

“The other thing when you’re growing fast, is you don’t have the luxury of trying too many things. You need to make sure you’re executing fast and it’ll yield results. The more close you are to sales, the more you reap the rewards more quickly.”

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8. Make culture the brand

Internal culture has also been part of Flower’s approach. She instigated the work around articulating what CrowdStrike wanted to represent and what was the driving force behind its go-to-market efforts.

“There was this feeling of a mission already there when I joined the company; our people were building technology in order to protect other organisations against the bad guys,” she says. “When I asked the CEO for a mission statement, he said it was to stop the adversaries. There was a feeling of pride and determination, more than just selling software. I saw that as an opportunity to make that part of our brand, and therefore our culture.”

This fed into a higher-level brand promise: ‘We are the company that stops breaches’. “It’s why we get up every morning, build our technology, stand up at trade shows and talk about what we do,” Flower says.

“From there we developed a branding campaign, showcasing our technology as being built to stop breaches. We wanted to build strong relationships with customers and understand their needs and wants so we can align. We also showed we want to unite with other tech partners, or expertise in the industry in order to come together for the greater good of cybersecurity.”

On top of this, CrowdStrike introduced an internal culture committee, and every new global employee participates in a US head office induction to learn the brand promise, what the company stands for and what they’re becoming part of.

“A mission as simple as ‘we are the company that stops breaches’ is something everyone will remember. Then you can build underneath it,” Flower adds. “We came up with that brand promise three years ago and it stands true today. It’s been a great way for people – whether in finance, marketing, sales or finance – to rally together.”

9. Build a strong identity

Something unique to the cybersecurity and B2B space, meanwhile, was creating a very strong emotive identity.

“Because we put a face on the adversary – it’s very emotive – it’s translated way into people being proud to wear the brand. It’s not unusual to go into an office and people are wearing adversary T-shirts, or have an adversary cup or on their socks,” Flower says.

“Every year, for instance, we create adversary calendars we send to all customers, employees and partners. We do an ‘adversary of the month’ blog, produced by our intelligence team. If you go to some of our offices, you see a line-up of adversaries we have taken out.

“The brand has built based on keeping a simple message and brand promise and everything falls under it. Then we’ve introduced adversary concepts that are very iconic and loved by our customers. Every time we get a new customer we send a welcome pack, and that has loads of goodies including T-shirts – these are IT professionals, they love the swag.”

10. Customer-centric marketing design

A customer feedback loop has been a further way of building connection. For this, Flower says CrowdStike had the benefit of starting very high and with enterprise-tier customers, such as Telstra.

“Because you start with large organisations, you have to listen – you can’t just throw a product in, it becomes a partnership,” she argues.  

“A lot of work now is creating a customer-centric marketing program. We have a series of things we do, such as the welcome pack; we run advisory boards, such as a technical and strategic advisory boards, where we invite people in every six months. We take those very seriously and really outline our thoughts on where we need to prioritise, new capabilities and modules, but we’re asking for their input. We use that information to help shape our roadmap.”

In addition, CrowdStrike built an annual user forum 18 months ago. And it’s just launched the Crowdstrike champion program, giving engaged customers the opportunity to be briefed early on in strategic and product development. This in turn helped CrowdStrike develop a strong customer reference community.

11. Evolving the marketing function

Through her four-year tenure, it’s been vital for Flower as CMO to understand and embrace the evolving role of marketing.

“When I think about all our company initiatives, there are very few marketing is not involved in. One way or another, we get involved – whether it is employee brand for talent and recruitment, or advisory boards to get feedback on product roadmaps,” she says. “That’s important. The company benefits from having marketing people involved, as we have a lot of strengths in engagement, communication and branding. Also, that means we are learning more as a marketing org, which means we can apply that to marketing efforts and investment.

“I almost see marketing sitting between product management, all sales and customer engagement. If you can align and create strong relationships with heads of engineering and product management as well as their teams, and sales, it’s a strong alignment of strategy and development all the way through to execution.”  

12. Foster collaboration

As a result, collaboration with executives, peers and other departments has been a running thread for Flower. Regular meetings with distributed executive colleagues, for instance, delivers visibility of what’s going on outside Flower’s own domain and allows her to raise her hand to offer support, suggestions and more.

“That also helps us build trust and looking at initiatives more holistically,” she concludes. “You always need someone to take the lead, but more often than not, if it’s a truly strategic initiative, it touches more than one part of the organisation.

“I do believe as marketers, we have a critical role to play here as we’re naturally project leaders. We can help shape how that can be pulled together from the variety of departments to make it an even greater success.”  

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